I’m not a giver, I’m a taker. Conniving, jealous, greedy, suspicious, malevolent, quick to seize any advantage no matter how small, a freeloader when I can be, the guy who gives the least when give he must, cunning, plotting, nefarious, in short, a racer of bicycles.
And part of being small minded and jealous means keeping careful track of my victories over the last several years, which is fairly easy because I can still count to two. And not simply keeping track of victories (did I mention two?), but also keeping track of fake victories, i.e. fake races like Telo (I can count to zero there), and especially fake non-races like NPR.
Over the years I have won the NPR group ride, yes, ponder that ridiculous statement for a while, a grand total of six times. And I’ve done the ride a bunch because it goes off every Tuesday and Thursday … and out of all that only six measly faux imaginary victories.
Of course there are many who have won NPR scads of times, but multi-repeat winners of the NPR are typically sprinters because it almost always ends in a bunch sprunt. There aren’t a lot of NPR champions who have won multiple times out of a break AND out of a bunch sprint. And with the exception of Alverson, no one has won over and over again solo.
That’s because winning out of a break is very difficult. The gaps are never big and a stop lights can easily derail the nicest gap. I’ve won the NPR out of a bunch sprunt, beating Cameron Khoury one time to his everlasting shame, I’ve won it solo twice, and four times out of a break.
It always takes a confluence of miracles for an NPR breakaway win to occur. Good riders have to stay home or have leg cancer or be prepping for a big race or you have to be on Daniel Holloway’s wheel the whole time and then he pulls off with 200 to go and lets you have it. All the lights have to be green or you have to run them. The chasers have to get stuck at all the lights. There can’t be a police escort. The wind has to be stiff so that the chasers get tired. Head Down James has to be in the chase so that there is constant surging and blowing and never an organized effort. You typically need to have eaten lasagna the night before, and it always helps to start your attack as early as possible, say, in the alley, or perhaps on Sunday.
Even with all this silliness, or because of it, NPR wins are treasured, hallowed things for most of the 200-some-odd semi-regular riders, something that most wankers will never achieve. If you don’t understand why a grown person would want to “win” an imaginary finish with an undefined finish line, risking life and limb in a crazy sprunt or suffering extraordinary misery in a prolonged breakaway, then you will never understand the ridiculousness of cycling, or, parenthetically, the incredible heights to which you can be taken by something as objectively meaningless as pedaling a bike.
But I digress.
This morning I sized up the group. There was much leftover Thanksgiving in evidence hanging off the midriffs of the attendees. Sallow faces were still in shock at having had the gluttonfest that began Thursday come to such a cruel end four days later. Tired faces from having ridden overmuch on the long weekend stared out from behind leaden eyes. Cold morning temperatures shriveled small parts. A brisk wind cut through everyone who wasn’t wearing Stage One cycling apparel. No enthusiasm abounded. Sullenness lay all around, as unappreciated as discarded gift wrapping on Christmas morning.
So as soon as we reached Mt. Chevron I did the early attack, the same thing I’d tried on Thursday and that had failed so miserably when Ramon and I drilled it along VdM only to be hauled back easily by the pre-Thanksgiving crowd. In a few seconds I was joined, then passed by Steve Kim.
Towards the end of last year he had shown up on a couple of Flog Rides and been sufficiently humbled that he never returned. We were Big O teammates but rode different categories, so although I saw him at a lot of races we never raced together much. He was quiet. Not so flamboyant on the bike. Kept to himself …
A week or so ago I saw him riding a new bike in a nondescript kit made by Eliel, the people who make the kits for Surf City. It was a Surf City team bike, and no orange to be seen on him anywhere. He was drilling it at the front of the NPR, a spot usually reserved for psychopaths. “Is that Steve?” I asked Charon.
“Yeah,” he said.
“He riding for Surf now?”
“Hmmm,” I thought. “What’s a wanker like that doing riding for Charon? Charon’s a pretty good judge of horseflesh, and except for Prez that team is a bunch of bona fide killers.” But I said nothing.
Nor did I say anything this morning, because I couldn’t. Steve was pulling into the headwind so hard that at times I was sprinting just to hold his wheel. He’d drag me along for a couple of minutes, swing over, slow down a lot, let me take a baby pull so he could catch his breath, and then come banging through again.
Before we hit Playa del Rey I looked back and the wankoton was nowhere to be seen. “This might be the day,” I thought.
Steve kept throttling it and me as we hit World Way Ramp. Each of my pulls got softer and his continued in a masterful kind of way: He’d come through slow enough for me to hop on, then ramp it up until I was simply pinned.
On Westchester Parkway a chase of five riders had started and the headwind had broken the wankoton into two big lumps. I could see Head Down James leading the charge, but it soon became clear that he had no intention of working with his chase mates and had chosen instead to surge them rather than get an even chase going. Mutiny and disarray in the chasers is a beautiful thing to behold when Steve is flogging you about the head and shoulders with unbridled fury.
By the end of Lap 2 Steve looked at me. “We might make this,” he said.
“Yes,” I agreed. “Thanks to you.” This had the desired effect of making him work even harder. Even though his efforts were huge and constant, the longer I dallied and soft-pedaled and weasled and sucked wheel the more my legs came around. In another half a lap I’d be getting back to fresh, the perfect point to sandbag a bit more and then attack the shit out of him at the end for the imaginary win. The best lesson to teach an improving bike rider is that everyone hates you.
Head Down James was making ground but not enough. The chase had given up. The wankoton was broken into two corn-studded lumps floating in the bowl.
As we went through the last orange-ish light I pulled up next to him. “You ever win the NPR?”
He looked at me. “No.”
And there you had it. Lame and imaginary and delusional and fake and not-pinned-on-a-number as it was, here you had yet another guy, a guy a lot better than I would ever be, who had never crossed the line first.
“Well, you’re gonna win it today.”
I hunched over and rolled it as hard as I could, almost breaking 15 mph with the tailwind and throwing down my full 135 watts. As we approached the imaginary finish line at the beginning curb edge of the third traffic island before the second to last light, Steve came flying by.
Then, as his wheel got in front of mine, he eased off and slid back, putting me forward for the win. I eased off even more and reversed it. He eased off even more-more and it was me again. I eased off even more-more-more, and he won the imaginary finish.
We both grinned and missed a fist bump, almost knocking out each other’s teeth.
“That was fucking hard,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Good job,” I said. “You fucking killed it.”
“You, too,” he said.
Coffee this morning at the Center of the Known Universe tasted particularly good.
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